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Education
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‘I don’t have that kind of money:’ After school child care costs skyrocket as YWCA Rock County introduces new fee structure

JANESVILLE

Up until this month, securing after-school care for her children for the coming year seemed a simple task for Barbara Gerber.

The single mother of two needed to be on her toes each spring to make sure she reserved seats for her children in the YWCA Rock County’s after school child care program. But after that, it was as easy as having her son and daughter walk from their Kennedy Elementary School classrooms following the last bell of the day to the room where they held the program.

It gave Gerber peace of mind, knowing her children stayed in the same building until she could come pick them up. And the program was reasonably priced, just under $350 a month for eight to 10 hours of child care a week.

But under a new pay structure released by YWCA Rock County earlier this month, Gerber is now looking elsewhere for child care for the coming school year. Under the first iteration of the new structure that was shared with families earlier this month, Gerber’s monthly cost would balloon to over $1,100 starting Sept. 1.

The YWCA has since backed off, dropping that total to $840, but Gerber said her budget still can’t stretch to cover the $500 monthly cost increase. She’s since unenrolled her children for the coming school year, despite how convenient the YWCA’s program would be.

“I felt like when I signed them up (this spring) and I paid the enrollment fee, it was with the understanding that this is what the fee would be, this is the service that I get. To change the rules left probably hundreds of families scrambling to find child care,” Gerber said. “Honestly, I can’t afford it … I simply don’t have that kind of money.”

YWCA operates before and after school programs at a select number of Janesville and Milton elementary school district sites. The nonprofit agency notified parents of the rate changes via email as early as July 12, asking them to decide by July 29 whether they would keep their children enrolled.

Under the previous pay structure, families paid $21.25 a week per child for before or after school care. The revised pricing model sent to all families by July 14 eliminated the per-hour fees and instead would charge by the week, regardless of how many hours a student spends in school child care.

Initially, the new rates priced the morning child care program at $55 for a family’s first child, and $50 for each additional child. The cost of afternoon child care was initially $95 for the first child, and $75 for additional children.

For both morning and afternoon child care, the cost for the first child was $150 a week, with each additional child costing $125.

Type of careOriginal increaseAmended increase
Morning (first child)$55$45
Morning (additional child)$50$40
Afternoon (first child)$95$65
Afternoon (additional child)$75$60
Both (first child)$150$110
Both (additional child)$125$100

The price increases come as YWCA looks to adjust wages for school child care staff to better recruit and retain them.

“In response to the current economic climate, the YWCA Rock County has made adjustments to the 2022-2023 school year fee policies,” interim Executive Director Kim Fons said in a prepared statement to The Gazette on July 25. “In alignment with our mission, we will continue to offer financial aid to families and look for ways to expand our support of those who need it most.”

Communications director Kary Dray declined to comment further and did not offer further information on YWCA’s previous pricing structure, enrollment in the program for the 2021-22 school year or the number of sites the nonprofit runs, stating that “this is all of the information we have at the moment.”

YWCA has since walked its price increases back twice, once on July 19 and again on July 24, when staff said some families would qualify for “scholarships” based on the number of hours their children attended the program.

Stacy, a mother of two who asked that her real name not be used to avoid retaliation, was already bracing for a cost increase for afternoon school child care for her two children beginning in September.

But the bill she’s facing now from YWCA Rock County, though, left both herself and her husband in shock.

Through the most recent school year, she had been paying $85 a week for her son and daughter to attend the YWCA’s after school program at their Janesville elementary school. Under the new structure, her monthly cost will balloon to $840.

Before the YWCA backpedaled, she was told her monthly bill would be $1,100.

“The initial proposed amount was going to cost actually more than our mortgage,” she said. “The new amount is less than that, but not by a whole lot. So it’s going to put off saving for things in the future.”

An unsustainable model

Until now, the pricing model for YWCA’s school child care program had changed very little in recent years.

In a July 19 email to families obtained by The Gazette, YWCA Child Care Program Director Vanessa Graham wrote that the school child care program had only increased by $0.50 an hour in the last 16 years. It’s a model that’s unsustainable, Graham wrote in the email.

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the problem, Graham said in a July 12 letter to families explaining the decrease. As a result of losing staff, YWCA had to close three sites and has yet to reopen them.

“When COVID-19 hit us like a raging storm, we lost a lot of qualified staff,” she wrote in the letter. “However, we have never stopped searching for more qualified staff who will love and care for your students the way we do.”

Qualified staff are required to obtain licensing from the state, which includes 80 full-time days or 120 part-time days of service for supervisors and at least 10 hours of training for assistants, according to job postings from YWCA. Staff must also be certified in infant or child CPR.

Fee reductions

In its latest communications with families, the YWCA has dropped the weekly rates for the coming school year by $10-40 per option.

The largest decrease would be in the both morning and afternoon child care option for a family’s first child, down by $40 to $110. The afternoon child care option fee came down nearly as much, to $65 a week from the original $95.

The reduction in prices came after YWCA told families in an email that it received a one-year COVID-19 grant funding for 2022-23.

On July 22, Fons announced in an email to families that those who did not qualify for financial assistance would receive a “scholarship” based on the number of hours their children were enrolled during the 2021-22 school year. For Gerber, whose children were enrolled 8-10 hours a week, her scholarship amounted to an additional $10 per child.

Stacy said she and her husband will have to absorb the child care cost increase, regardless of whether it financially works for them.

Having no child care for their two children isn’t a fiscal option either, Stacy explained. She and her husband both work full-time with hours that don’t align with the school’s start and end times.

“That’s the only way we can both continue to work and afford all of our bills,” she said.

No plan

As of mid-July, Gerber didn’t have a plan as to how her children would be cared for before and after school come September.

She said her options are limited, with her mother, who is in her eighties, the only nearby family. And her son, an incoming fifth-grader, has aged out of many of the traditional daycare options offered in Janesville.

And while Gerber lives in the city Janesville, her home falls into the Milton School District. She’s opted to open-enroll into the Janesville School District. Kennedy Elementary is across the city.

The option she’s looking most closely into now is finding someone to transport her children to school, and then to get them home after school each day, and then have her 10-year-old son look after himself and his sister.

Many other parents Gerber has talked with since the announcement of the new rates are considering the same option.

“Unfortunately, a lot of (parents) with kids my son’s age, the kids are going to be home alone now. And I don’t know, at age 10, if that’s always a great idea,” she said. “And it’s unfortunate that parents have to choose a lesser option because of finances.”

One of Stacy’s children has also aged out of most daycare options, she said, and other daycare providers she has contacted have either no spaces left or have a waitlist for the coming school year. She said having no nearby family further limits her options to one: Staying in the program and making the finances work.

She said it puts here in a position she’d actively worked to avoid, as she tries to pre-plan her family’s future by thinking long-term, not a few weeks at a time.

“I’ve tried to plan like three and four years ahead of time, you know, what am I going to do with my kiddos in middle school,” she said. “Financial stressors I know have been impacting so many families...this another burden for so many of our community members.”


Tyler Butts relaxes midmorning with a snack between his Jersey yearlings named Ethel, left, and Petra during the Rock County 4-H Fair on Wednesday.


Agriculture
Rock County Fair judges, past exhibitors themselves, guide a new generation

JANESVILLE

When he was a kid in Delavan, Kyle Adams showed rabbits through 4-H at local fairs. Now he’s involved in a different way, as a judge for rabbit showmanship.

Adams had taken a break from rabbits when he went to college. Things changed when he met his husband.

“When my husband and I got together he wanted rabbits,” Adams said. “I’m like, ‘okay, just another animal to care for.’ Now we’re about 14 years into the rabbit world.”

Adams said both his mother and sister have rabbits now too, and specifically English Lops are in his barn at home. He’s been a judge at the Rock County 4-H Fair for the past three years, but also judges at other fairs too including Dane County, St. Croix County and at some county fairs in Illinois. This year will be Adams’ first year judging at the Wisconsin State Fair for showmanship, which he said he’s excited about.

Adams said he enjoys learning about the judging style of fellow judges and what they’ve learned from judging at different fairs.

“I think the fun thing about judging, especially with the showmanship, is the weird things kids say.

One youth exhibitor, for instance, mistakenly said “chicken breast” instead of “pigeon breast” while showing their rabbit to Adams, which he recalls as “ just hilarious.”

Pigeon breast refers to a protrusion of the chest, according to MedlinePlus.

“You see kids fumble with their words and those kinds of things, but then how they recuperate from that is important too,” Adams said. “Since I’ve judged here a couple of times, once I get to the older group, I remember I was working with them when they were little. So it’s nice to see how they’ve matured and how seriously they take the project.”

Drawing and Painting

Ciera Ballmer, like Adams, grew up in 4-H and Future Farmers of America (FFA). Ballmer remembers exhibiting at the Rock County 4-H Fair.

“At an exhibitor, I always looked forward to having my items judged and getting that feedback,” Ballmer said. “Showing it off for the judge, but also fairgoers, I always enjoyed that part of the fair.”

Ballmer is now a family and consumer education teacher at Parker High School in Janesville. Through her experience in 4-H and her background in food and health science, she wanted to get involved at the fair again.

So, she became a judge.

Ballmer has been a judge at the Rock County 4-H Fair and at fairs in Washington County, Jefferson County and Dane County. She will be at the Winnebago County Fair in Oshkosh next week.

Her mother and sister are judges, too.

Ballmer isn’t a judge at this year’s Rock County 4-H Fair, serving rather as a superintendent for drawing and painting.

“I love arts and crafts and photography, sewing, whether it’s home, or the clothes side,” Ballmer said. “Then I have a background in agriculture. I really enjoy the culinary arts and the food science portion because that combines things and that’s what I teach.”

She said judging the food competitions can be fun since you get to eat all day.

“My favorite part of judging is just knowing how much pride those kids take in their project itself,” Ballmer said. “The end result, but also the process of getting there. They’re just so focused on the projects and what they’re able to learn and try new things. It’s really cool to see them develop their skills over the years.”

In Rock County, Ballmer said she has been impressed by the kids participating in the drawing and painting showcase.

“The third and fourth-graders are wowing the judges and then the advanced classes we’re just getting into,” Ballmer said. “They definitely can be in a museum.”

Foods, Cake Decorating

When asked how long she had been involved in the Rock County 4-H Fair, Jeanne Smith-Corlett, the superintendent of the foods and cake decorating department, had to take a moment to think. Her daughter turned 44 this weekend, and recalled her being around 12 years-old when she started competing at the fair. If you do the math, that’s over 30 years of involvement.

Soon after both her son and daughter became involved, Smith-Corlett became the assistant superintendent of the foods and cake decorating department.

She stepped into the world of cake decorating when tragedy struck her family. Her mother, a local cake decorator, died in an accident and Smith-Corlett took over, finishing cake for scheduled weddings.

Her family buried her mother on a Thursday and Smith-Corlett set up six wedding cakes on the following Saturday. She was 30 at the time and had her two young kids.

“My mother was a fabulous cake decorator,” Smith-Corlett recalls. “In fact, we give an award every year in her memory.

Smith-Corlett’ has been the superintendent of the food and cake decorating department for many years now.

“I’m in charge of making sure all the foods get in the right place. Everything’s ready to go, we have just under 400 entries,” she said.

She tries to teach youth exhibitors by correcting them and giving them “tips and tricks.”

“If the kids come in and they get these chocolate cakes, let’s say it’s stuck to the bag…I will tell them next time to cut out a square of parchment paper and put it on top of the cakes,” she said. “(Then) you won’t have that problem.”

Smith-Corlett said she is most impressed with the kids that improve year over year and those who show her tricks she hasn’t even seen before. And she said she has never seen the quality of the cakes or food projects go down.


Milwaukee Brewers' Rowdy Tellez watches his three-run home run during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Minnesota Twins Wednesday, July 27, 2022, in Milwaukee.


Local
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Janesville may soon learn the actual cost of a new ice arena

JANESVILLE

Earlier this week at a city of Janesville public engagement forum on the proposed Woodman’s Sports and Conference Center, local residents filled out and stuck more than a dozen Post-It notes to a cork board. Written on the Post-Its were comments and questions about the project.

An unsigned hot-pink note sent public and private groups planning the proposed indoor ice and sports arena and conference hall a blunt message.

In three words, in black ink, it read: “Keep COST DOWN!”

An ad-hoc city design committee and the city’s planning department have been working for months with consultants to vet and focus a concept for an arena at Uptown Janesville, on the site of a former Sears department store there along Milton Avenue. The proposed project would bring two indoor ice sheets to the site that could double as multi-sport flex space. Adjacent to that complex would be a separate, multi-use conference and event center.

It’s all planned under one roof in a new building proposed on the former Sears site. The city would own it and it would be managed privately.

It’s an impressive project, with climate controlled arena space and seating for more than 1,700. Among other uses, the arena space would allow families and spectators to watch hockey games with ambient temperatures in the 50s while across the way, the conference and convention space might support up to three wedding receptions at once, those involved in the planning say.

That’s not to mention the potential economic benefit such a project could bring to Uptown Janesville, the city’s struggling shopping mall. And it doesn’t factor in a possible boost to adjacent retail, restaurant and hotel properties in the Milton Avenue and Humes Road commercial corridor.

Yet, the “Keep COST DOWN” Post-It an anonymous resident dropped at the public junket this week at Janesville’s public library begs an obvious question. In the current economy, what would be the actual cost of a multi-use arena and conference center like the one proposed at Uptown Janesville.

Although paid consultants to the city won’t have design and construction costs crunched and ready for the public to see for at least a month, some Janesville city officials say it’s unlikely the new sticker price will mesh with city cost estimates from a few years ago.

Crunching numbers

The city earlier estimated it could afford to borrow for its part on such a project if the overall cost was about $28 million, an amount that would be split among city borrowing, private financing, and potential grant funding. But that was before the COVID-19 pandemic, the launch of an eastern European war, and economic pressures of the past two years.

Now, many builders are scuffling for workers as construction material and labor costs have spiked, driven largely by rising inflation that over the last year.

Neither city officials nor private stakeholders at the public engagement forum this week shied away from questions about cost escalation on a big project amid record inflation, but they said it will be another month before consultants and the city with have firmer cost estimates.

Jennifer Petruzzello, the city’s neighborhood services department director, is among city officials involved in grant-writing and planning for the proposed project. She said as the city’s ad-hoc design committee and consultants continue to mull possible cuts to project plans, including removing some ancillary locker room space and tweaking the layout of a wraparound lobby for the whole complex, it’s difficult to say what the final price tag could be.

But she said the committee, consultants, and private stakeholders are aware they may have to further overhaul plans. Petruzzello pointed out that the overall physical size and scope of the project—and baked in with that, the operational plan and profit model for the whole complex—haven’t expanded since the plan’s earliest inception.

The heavy lifting that remains, Petruzzello said, is whether a two-sheet ice arena with stands and mechanicals, and a conference center, could be built under current cost trends without design cuts that would significantly crimp their size and function.

“So, can we work it out?” Petruzzello said. “I think anytime you look at a large project, there’s always a lot of needs and a lot of things that people want to see. And, so, as we get closer to these cost numbers, we’re aware that we’re going to have to further refine that.”

What’s the plan?

At the public junket this week, images shared by the city and its consultants continued to show an ice arena that would have two ice sheets that could be converted for other sport uses.

The city is poised as early as late August to publicly reveal “preliminary” cost estimates for the likeliest layout of the Woodman’s Center, including demolition costs for the Sears parcel, which the city has agreed to take ownership of for free under plans to raze the Sears and build the Woodman’s Center in its place. Firm cost estimates—and a sense of whether the project would be a financial go for the city and private entities—would likely come early next year, officials have said.

Some city officials and design consultants earlier this summer had pegged the project’s potential cost, given inflationary estimates, at upward of at $40 million—several million dollars above initial estimates.

The city still hasn’t agreed to front construction costs for the Woodman’s Center, nor has the city council approved the project. And the city hasn’t upped the ante—at least not publicly—on an initial commitment of up to $15 million in city financing. That, earlier, was the most the city administration estimated it could borrow to pitch in on the Woodman’s Center.

A hazier question now is whether the local economy has contracted in recent months to the point of economic recession—a possibility economists have forecast since earlier this year.

While a few random citizens attended, most of those at the public engagement forum this week are either are involved in the planning or private fundraising for the proposed Woodman’s Center.

Bill McCoshen is a leader of the private-side Friends of the Indoor Sports Comple, a group that has fund-raised on and off for the last two years with the goal of amassing at least $7 million for private funding for the Woodman’s Center. The group has said it’s already amassed $3.75 million in commitments for naming rights for the project.

McCoshen said despite uncertainty over the current economy, fundraising hasn’t been hampered like it was in 2020, during the first wave of COVID-19. At that time, the Friends group was forced for months to suspend fundraising.

Although McCoshen said the private group’s financial stake in the project hasn’t changed, he said it’s unlikely it would lobby to move ahead on a project with a price tag significantly above earlier estimates.

“We haven’t raised (an amount) that would get us to $40 million,” McCoshen said. “So what people in the community need to understand is we’re not going to try to build something that we just can’t build. If it costs $41 (million) and we’ve only raised $31 (million), we’re not going to just go ahead and build a $41-million-dollar building. We won’t. Because you can’t.”


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